Sometimes referred to as “cradle to grave” analysis, LCA provides a mechanism for systematically evaluating the environmental impacts linked to a product or process and in guiding process or product improvement efforts. LCA-based information also provides insights into the environmental impacts of raw material and product choices, and maintenance and end-of-product-life strategies. Because of the systematic nature of LCA and its power as an evaluative tool, the use of LCA is increasing as environmental performance becomes more and more important in society.
Despite its power and growing importance, LCA is viewed in some quarters as prohibitively tedious and expensive. However, there are today a number of user-friendly data banks and analytical tools that allow non-scientists to conduct comprehensive environmental assessments of products ranging from a can of beans to automobiles and large buildings. Available LCA tools range from simple, focused spreadsheets to sophisticated software programs with professional support and access to some of the most comprehensive databases available.
In this report, information is provided to assist first-time LCA practitioners in selecting appropriate LCA tools and data sources. Exploration of available resources is important before embarking on any assessment, so as to identify available data (and thus additional data needed), as well as software tools that best fit the needs of those involved.
LCA tools are evaluated herein based on credibility of information, ease of searching for data, understandability of datasets, and available breadth of processes. Three databases from public sources, the US Life Cycle Inventory Database, CPM LCA Database, and the European Life Cycle Database, along with three private LCA tools, ecoinvent 3.0, GaBi, and SimaPro, were analyzed according to these criteria.